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The 2020 Beirut explosion investigation has once again been suspended after a new legal complaint was filed against the lead investigator by two MPs and former ministers who have been charged in the case. Judge Tarek Bitar was officially notified yesterday of the new complaint filed in the Court of Cassation by Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, which forced the investigation’s suspension. The notification came shortly after Bitar issued an arrest warrant for Hassan Khalil, who failed to show up for questioning yesterday morning. The MPs’ new complaint demands Bitar’s removal from the case and requires the court to notify him, necessitating the probe’s suspension. It is also Hassan Khalil and Zeaiter’s third attempt to remove Bitar from his position. The clock is ticking for Bitar to pursue legal action against them. On Oct. 19, when Parliament is scheduled to enter a regular session, the MPs will be shielded by legal immunity. The timing has led experts to trump the MPs’ previous lawsuits up to little more than a stalling tactic.
Lebanon’s cabinet adjourned midway through a session yesterday evening after the ministers were reportedly unable to reach a consensus on whether to take an official position on Bitar’s conduct. Ministers affiliated with the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and the Marada Movement reportedly demanded that Bitar be replaced as lead investigator. Information Minister George Kurdahi, who is affiliated with Marada, later denied this report and said discussion on the investigation would continue in the next session, which is scheduled for today at 4 p.m. However, a Presidential Palace source told L’Orient Today that Hezbollah and Amal ministers had called for Bitar’s removal, and in an appearance on Al Mayadeen, Hassan Khalil, who is affiliated with Amal, said the Shiite ministers may resign if the cabinet does not make a “proper decision” about the blast investigation. Before adjourning, the cabinet also made several official appointments, including Bassam Badran as the Lebanese University’s new president, Judge Albert Serhan and the lawyer Mireille Najm as two new Constitutional Council members and Judge Mohamad Masri as the Justice Ministry’s new director general.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has expressed his support for a draft law that would set a quota for the number of women in Parliament and promised to schedule a vote on it during the next parliamentary session. Women’s political participation in Lebanon continues to be very low; only six women were elected during the last parliamentary elections, in 2018. During a joint parliamentary committee session last week, MP Inaya Ezzeddine (Amal/Sur) put forward an amendment to the electoral law that would see women account for at least 40 percent of each electoral list on the ballot, and the appointment of at least one woman from the winning list, regardless of whether she received the most votes. However, the MPs were reportedly reluctant to discuss the amendment, and Ezzeddine told L’Orient Today that Free Patriotic Movement legislators argued the amendment “would disrupt Parliament’s [sectarian] representation.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that all banks will be closed on Thursday following what it called “attacks” outside a Bank of Beirut branch last week. Upwards of 100 demonstrators had met with riot police outside the bank in Downtown Beirut, and a protester reportedly catapulted an egg at Salim Sfeir, ABL’s head and Beirut Bank’s CEO. The protesters had gathered to denounce informal capital controls at commercial banks that have kept depositors locked away from their dollar holdings for two years. On Saturday night, three demonstrators were hospitalized after they were allegedly attacked and beaten by plainclothes guards while demonstrating outside Sfeir’s home in the Beirut suburb of Sin al-Fil, an attorney for the protesters told L’Orient Today.